A prominent Russian journalist and a lawyer were attacked and suffered serious injuries after several masked men in the Russian region of Chechnya forced their car to stop on Tuesday, the journalist’s employer and rights groups said in statements.
Elena Milashina, a well-known journalist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which has lost its licence in Russia, was travelling to the Chechen capital, Grozny, from the local airport with Alexander Nemov, a lawyer, when they were attacked.
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Milashina and Nemov, who had planned to attend a court hearing later on Tuesday, are now in hospital in Grozny.
There was no immediate comment from the authorities in Chechnya.
The attackers shaved Milashina’s head, broke several of her fingers and covered her head with green dye, according to human rights group Memorial, which said she had lost consciousness several times.
“They were brutally kicked, including in the face, threatened with death, had a gun held to their heads, and had their equipment taken away and smashed,” Memorial said in a statement on Telegram.
“While being beaten, they were told: ‘You have been warned. Get out of here and don’t write anything.'”
A photograph of Milashina posted on social media showed her sitting on a hospital bed with her face covered in green dye, her head shaved, and bandages on her left arm and right hand.
“Elena Milashina’s fingers have been broken and she is sometimes losing consciousness. She has bruises all over her body,” Memorial said.
Rights group “Team against Torture” said Nemov had been stabbed in the leg.
Their attackers had made it clear the duo were being punished for their activism and reporting, it said.
Milashina and Nemov were in Chechnya to cover the sentencing by a court of Zarema Musayeva, a Chechen woman charged with assaulting a policeman.
A Russian court last year stripped Novaya Gazeta, led by Dmitry Muratov, a Nobel Peace laureate, of its media licence, a move Muratov said was politically motivated.
Novaya Gazeta has since 2000 seen six of its journalists and contributors killed, including investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
By focusing on rights abuses in Chechnya, Milashina has followed in the footsteps of Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin’s policies in Chechnya, who was shot dead in 2006.
My beautiful, brave friend Lena Milashina was severely beaten in Chechnya by masked Kadyrovite thugs. They stomped on her and broke several of her fingers. She also suffered a horrible concussion. I won’t post her photo from the hospital, here’s a much nicer one pic.twitter.com/9OgHQDiRTa
— Lana Estemirova🇺🇦 (@lanaestemirova) July 4, 2023
Journalists and media rights groups condemned Tuesday’s assault, as they described Milashina as a fearless reporter.
The International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders said they were “horrified” by the attack.
Some Russian lawmakers and officials in Moscow said the incident needed investigating.
Mokhmad Akhmadov, a senator from Chechnya, was cited by the state RIA news agency as saying he believed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov would get to the bottom of things and that he did not think the attack had been sanctioned at an official level.
Milashina, who has investigated what she said was the mass arrest and torture of gay men in the region, was evacuated by Novaya Gazeta from Russia last year after Kadyrov described her as a terrorist in a social media post.
Kadyrov denies rights abuses, saying such allegations are fabricated by ill-wishers trying to discredit Chechnya and its authorities.